The Tribune - Spectrum

, March 24, 2002

Acerbic account of caste system & saffronisation
D.R Chaudhry

Saffron Fascism
by Sham Chand. Hemkunt Publishers, Delhi. Pages X+178. Price Rs. 395

SAFFRON is a buzzword these days. Saffron Fascism is a powerful onslaught on the socio-political ideology of the Sangh Parivar as enunciated by its numerous outfits like the BJP, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. The author characterises this ideology as ‘saffron fascism’.

"I", writes the author, "have been constrained to write this book to caution those who share my uphold the precious legacy of secularism and democracy". This legacy, he feels, is targeted for destruction.

The RSS is aimed at perpetuating the hegemony of the Brahmanical order in Indian society. Its Hindutava and cultural nationalism are a smoke screen. The RSS, the author says, has some very disturbing similarities with Hitler's fascism. Its organised hypocrisy, institutional terrorism, criminalised communalism, and mythologised falsehood remind one of the techniques and methods adopted by Hitler and his followers.


The author raises a pertinent question as to why Dr. Hedgewar wanted to found RSS when Veer Savarkar had already revived the defunct Hindu Mahasabha in 1923. The author offers an explanation that sounds quite plausible. First, the Mahasabha was a "political organisation fighting for the country's freedom. The RSS played no role in the freedom struggle. Secondly, the Brahmanical hegemony was coming under serious attack at the hands of the anti-Brahmanical movement in several parts of the country, especially in the South. The RSS is committed to perpetuate it. Thirdly, Savarkar's Hindu unification movement transcended narrow caste politics while the RSS has innate faith in the Chatur Varna and its subsequent proliferation in castes.

It is the detailed and deep examination of the caste system, in the book under review that needs careful attention of a reader. The genesis of the caste system can be traced to Manu Smriti drawing inspiration from Purush Shukta of Rig Veda. Purush Shukta portrays Brahama as the creator of the universe. Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras were born of his mouth, arms, thighs, and feet respectively. This is factually incorrect, asserts the author. Before Brahama appeared on the scene, Varun, Mitra, Agni and Indra were the deities of the worship: Brahama, Vishnu and Shiva are not among the first rank of gods in Rig Veda. Secondly, reproduction is the field of woman and the four entities representing the four Varnas originating from Brahama is highly unscientific. The author is convinced that Purush Shukta is an interpolation into Rig Veda as it is not in consonance with its liberal spirit.

The caste system is very much different from the Vedic tradition. Under the impact of the Brahmanical pseudo-scholarship, it has grown over millennia into a hydra-headed monster, which has not been subdued by all the reformers. Dalits are not recognised as Hindus by Manu as there is no place for the fifth Varna in his system. He speaks of them Varna Bah'yas, those outside the Varna system. If this is so, the thesis of Kancha Ilaiah, a leading Dalit intellectual in his well known book Why I am not a Hindu is correct.

The author propounds a thesis that it is the caste system that is primarily responsible for India's slavery. This highly stratified system did not allow the release of fresh sources of talent and energy. The juxtaposition of class and caste has been the unique feature of Indian society and this did not receive due attention until recently. Its dynamics has yet to be fully explored. Shyam Chand, in the introduction to the book, says that he is not a historian. However, he has given an important lead and a significant clue for professional historians to study.

Ironically, the caste system is playing a positive role for the first time in Indian history. Caste has a duel role in society. It is constricting, regressive and divisive force if used as a tool to further the narrow and sectarian interests of the high caste elites. It can become a regenerative, liberative and solidifying force if used to articulate the aspirations of those that have suffered for ages through the caste system and thus release their latent energy. It is the second dimension of the caste that has started asserting itself of late in the Hindu society and the numerous forms of Dalit assertion have to be seen in this light.

Saffron Fascism is highly vitriolic and acerbic in its tone and tenor. The author states in the very beginning: "I venture to write this book not out of anger but of anguish....anguish caused by the transformation of people's commitments of the 60s into the cynicism of the 90s." Very true. Unfortunately, there has been a retreat of intellectuals in a section of the liberal intelligentsia. Understandably, the author's anguish often gets suffused with righteous indignation. However, intellectuals and creative writers rooted into the Dalit section of the Indian society have put more fire into the fight. Sham Chad's book is an admirable attempt in this direction.